(WWJ) His was the latest big name to fall to accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace, but Stephen Henderson, the Pulitzer-prize winning columnist and editor at the Detroit Free Press, refuses to go quietly.
On a radio show and in a blog, Henderson announced that he is exploring legal action after he was fired, he said, on a bogus complaint by Detroit’s Rev. W.J. Rideout III and the word of two women who did not want to pursue allegations against him.
Henderson said one co-worker reported they had shared a sexually-themed conversation at a party several years ago, and another female co-worker, a fellow manager, said he had asked her out twice. She rejected it, and recently reported to superiors the interaction had made her uncomfortable.
For its part, the Free Press announced the firing last week, saying it was based on “an investigation that uncovered examples of inappropriate behavior by Henderson with female colleagues dating back several years.” The newspaper did not detail the accusations, and said it would have no further comment.
Henderson, who started there in 2007, said he was blindsided.
“Neither of the co-workers involved had come forward or filed a complaint before the outside allegations were made against me. There are no other allegations. I have maintained professional friendships and good working relationships with both of these colleagues. The Free Press told me that neither of the two women want to take any action,” he wrote in a blog.
He added: “The newspaper and its corporate owner, Gannett, still decided to end my employment, saying my conduct violated the company’s standards. I disagree with that decision and outcome, and I am exploring legal action.”
Henderson continues to have a show on Detroit’s public radio, which is licensed by Wayne State University. If he did sue Gannett, he would be taking on the largest newspaper publisher in the country.
“To date, WDET and our license holder Wayne State University have not received any complaints against Henderson during his time as a contracted host,” WDET announced, saying the company is conducting an internal investigation of its own.
Henderson was first named by Rideout during a press conference where the reverend accused two staffers at WXYZ Detroit of harassing women. Rideout was later suspended from his own radio show for making accusations without revealing the basis for them.
“My question is where are the standards? What are the journalistic standards? Where are the victims? Former victims? You have to have journalistic standards,” founder and CEO Kevin Adell told the Free Press said.
Rideout’s accusation caused the Free Press to conduct its own investigation, Henderson said, and that’s when the pair of women came forward.
Henderson is one of dozens of men in media, politics and positions of power in Hollywood –including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, John Conyers, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Al Franken — who lost jobs due to accusations of sexual misconduct.
Henderson is one of the few to fight it. He’s joined in that effort by PBS host Tavis Smiley, who was fired for misconduct allegations.
“If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us,” Smiley said to ABC News. “This has gone too far. And I, for one, intend to fight back.”